LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Last year, Jeff Davis wasn’t afforded the opportunity to work with the South Laurel Cardinals during summer, with his late hiring as boys’ basketball coach.
So when the season started, the Cards were only used to seeing him in pressure situations, and vice versa. There was very little time to learn about each other, which is usually what summer basketball is for.
The Cardinals suffered through an 11-22 season with injuries plaguing them all season long. But records can be deceiving. Of South’s 22 losses, 14 were by 10 points or less. The Cards averaged 57.7 points per game while allowing opponents 62.5. A few baskets here and there, a couple of breaks, and it could have been a totally different season.
Now Davis has had not only a full season of basketball under his belt at South Laurel, but also a summer’s worth of practice, and he’s excited with what he saw from his team.
“I’m pleased,” Davis said. “We got better, the kids improved and we put a lot of time in the gym. We played about 40 games, playing in South Carolina, northern Kentucky and Ashland, and a lot of kids got experience that they didn’t have. Summer is about getting that experience.”
A key injury last season was to point guard Blake Sanders, who suffered a serious concussion in late December and missed the rest of the season. But Sanders has returned to the team, and Davis is thrilled to have him back.
“He got to play some this summer,” Davis said. “He seemed like he played hard and well. I missed him. He makes everybody around him better. He wasn’t in basketball shape, but he got back on the floor and working past his injury.”
While he didn’t have his full team this summer, due to several having commitments to other sports, four of his starters from last season did play the majority of the summer. Zac Baxter, Sanders, Matthew Slavey and Trevor Grubb played most of the summer, with Baxter missing some time due to injuries.
“Summer is a hard time to get everybody here,” Davis said. “And I understand that. We didn’t have everybody but for the ones who were here it was beneficial.”
“Zac’s gotten bigger and stronger, and he’s understanding the game better,” Davis said of his sophomore guard. “His growth process has improved, and he’s understanding that now.”
Another player who had a tremendous summer is Tyler Vandeventer, who saw mostly junior varsity action last year.
“Tyler had a great summer,” Davis said. “He’s getting better, probably the most improved player. He worked hard and he’s got that taste of varsity action now.”
Davis was also impressed with several young players.
“The young kids played more games than the varsity, with AAU events and such,” Davis said. “It was a beneficial summer for them. They learned the fundamentals of the game, learned how to play the game. From where they started to where they are really makes me proud. They are going to be fine.”
Davis said that the players weren’t the only ones learning this summer.
“I learned things that we could do differently,” Davis said. “I got to see kids I probably wouldn’t get to see in different situations. I got to see all the players in all different kinds of situations, not just in pressure situations. And it was good for them to get to see me in different situations, good to see me outside of the box.”
While he knows his team still has a lot of work to do before the season starts, he’s excited about things.
“We’ve got weaknesses to overcome,” Davis said. “Like any other team, we have our strengths and our weaknesses. But I’m excited about the season with the people we’ve got coming back. We’ve got some experience, and I like what we’ve got and where we are going. I’m excited about the things down the road.”